A department with 1000 employees needs to significantly improve its workplace safety performance. Our mission is to design and support a change process in order to evolve the safety culture. The aim is to touch off a fundamental, sustainable paradigm shift in the department’s workplace safety, with a stronger focus on behavioral aspects.
Our first thought is: High reliability does not arise from control, but rather from organizational learning aptitude. In order to bring about a paradigm shift, what is required is a strong management team, a shared target scenario, new experiences of collaboration, and rituals for regularly reviewing system fitness. The change process designed by us reflects these aspects.
5 levels of the safety culture as a lens
The management team aligns its change strategy with these five
How do we cut down on undesirable patterns (level 1&2)?
How can we avoid dysfunctional “more of the same” (“Super-level 3”)?
How do we reinforce desired patterns (level 4&5)?
The change process is based on a model that distinguishes between five different basic patterns of workplace safety. The safety culture’s previous level of quality is assessed using this model, and the target scenario desired for the future is communicated. Level 4 and 5 are based on scientific findings about the organizational principles governing especially reliable and resilient enterprises (high reliability organizing).
Culture Dialogs for continuous self-monitoring
In order to identify action areas, employees and management rely on Culture Dialogs to examine 21 safety-related issues, exchange views about their own day-to-day experiences in an open atmosphere and without assigning blame, and finally evaluate the patterns identified with reference to the 5-levels of the safety culture. The Culture Dialogs are based on a card system designed by ICL with specific behavioral descriptions that provide substantive guidance and help structure the discussion. Internal safety specialists are trained in how to moderate the interactive exchange of views.
Pattern analyses as a way of experiencing a constructive failure culture
Pattern analyses allow employees and managers to jointly experience what the process of learning from errors in steps 4 and 5 is like. They jointly go through an experience showing that this constructive attitude to errors can work at their company too. They harness a single unexpected event as a window onto the system, through which they examine the quality of their collaboration:
How fit are we when it comes to dealing with complexity and uncertainty, and where do we need to be better?
Regular work with the management team
The credibility and behavior of the management team determines the success of the project. For this reason, reflection workshops are held regularly in order to analyze both progress made and setbacks suffered in the process, and to refine the shared understanding of the project. Important questions are addressed in depth: How can managers exert influence on the development of the culture by acting as drivers of attention? Operational managers are also closely involved (foremen, shift bosses, etc.). They work to define specific operational issues in joint workshops, and make agreements regarding implementation. They themselves are best able to judge what measures are most effective. In self-organizing “learning teams”, the defined issues are implemented autonomously, and their processing status is monitored jointly.
Developing the safety specialists into process consultants
Safety specialists are deliberately utilized as process consultants, and are given the tools they need to function in that capacity. They are not subject specialists who perform a verification function, but rather establish themselves, step-by-step, as equal partners and change agents. Facilitators are also developed. They meet periodically to exchange observations about the safety culture and to decide on any necessary measures.
Positive changes in the collaboration culture appear during the first year: Employees speak openly about deviations, contributing their opinions. Managers are seen as being more credible in their conduct, particularly when it comes to decisions taken to resolve conflicts between the priorities of efficiency and safety. The number of incidents begins to decline in year two. By now the unit has been accident-free for more than two years, and the number of minor spills has been cut in half. The procedure is now being extended to the entire site with its 30,000 employees.
identified by the management team
Credibility of and unity within the senior management team
Visible, predictable decisions in the conflict between profitability and safety
Promoting cross-company learning
5 levels of the safety culture as a common reference and language
Intensive work with the operational management team, and learning partnerships to deliberate internally identified issues (bottom-up approach)
Having the patience to wait for success, with a preferential focus on small improvements in process quality, rather than on earnings indicators, especially at the beginning of the change process.